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The 36th Battalion: a record of service of the 36th Battalion with the Third Division in the Pacific

Chapter Eight — Initiation to Battle

page 65

Chapter Eight
Initiation to Battle

The night on board the APD is strained and quiet, with not a glimpse of light in the inky blackness. There is little room below. We sleep on deck. It is cooler here, but too crowded with men and gear. Often we wake with soldiers and sailors tripping over our legs in the darkness. We are up and about before dawn, standing in a seemingly unmoving queue, waiting for breakfast. Now it is time to clamber into our gear, and push our way to the boats.

The dawn is breaking, and shells are being pumped into the island which appears, wreathed in mist, two or three miles away, slightly to the port side. It is great to see the streaks of red, blue and white tracers as they whistle overhead, and we think of the panic they must be causing the Japs. We are in the boats now, and word is given to head for the shore. Planes appear overhead, but whether friend or foe we cannot tell. The coming brightness reveals the friendly star on the wings.

The boats move slowly. It is maddening, and the temptation to take a peep at the approaching shore is almost irresistible. Bullets begin zipping overhead, and a few splinter through our barge, snapping off a bayonet and grazing one of the boy's legs. The wound is slight, and he can carry on with us.

It is quite light now; and we can see the palms on the shore. We know our job, where we land and what we have to do. Our legs are cramped and stiff from crouching in the barge. As we loosen our life-belts, they fall off; the ramp goes down. The nose of the barge hits the shore; the sections file out in pre-arranged order, not on to a coral beach as expected, but one strewn with treacherous rocks. One or two get a ducking; we reach the shore in safety.

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We have made it! In extended order we push through the for-bidding jungle, alert for snipers that may lie waiting in trees over-head or in fox-holes cunningly concealed. Nerves are taut. It is our first action. As a burst of machine-gun fire rattle out, bullets tear the undergrowth and ground about us. One of the platoon is hit. Who is it? Is he badly hurt? No time to find out; the best we can do for him is to push on and get at the enemy. Stretcher bearers are following. They will give him the best they can. We have our job to do.

A couple of hundred yards from the shore we meet up with the rest of the company and begin our encircling movement of Jap headquarters. Our platoon is in front, and somehow we follow the wrong creek for a time. An order is passed up the line. 'Come back'. 'Who sent that order?' It is a Jap trick to issue false orders, and we are not going to be caught. No reply from the rear. There is a short delay before we return, and by the time we catch up with the rest of the company they have captured the Jap headquarters. It is a mess, torn by mortar and shell, but the enemy is gone. It falls to the lot of a Taihape boy to pull down the flag of the Rising Sun. We search the fox-holes for hidden Japs and inspect the camp. It is a vile smelling place, and the most untidy disorder imaginable.

Japanese mountain guns open up from the hill above us. The fire is accurate, and our boys are catching it down on the beach where they are unloading stores and ammunition from the LSTs. The 'Boss' calls the platoon together, and we set off for the guns.

The pace is too rapid for such steep, rough going. Before we reach the objective, our own mortars begin to plaster the guns. The explosion of their bombs adds to the din and to our worries. We are in the line of fire, and are afraid that they may drop a few bombs short. With the boom of guns and the sound of bursting shells, it certainly sounds like war. From the beach below comes the crackle of small arms ammunition and louder detonations. The Japs have destroyed their own dumps. Explosions continue for a long time.

The guns are within a hundred yards now. They cease fire. As we go in we find that the enemy has fled. The guns are sizzling hot. Large piles of shell cases indicate the speed and efficiency with which the crews have worked. There is but one unfired shell. Gear and equipment is scattered about, and we are careful of booby traps, but the Japs have left in a hurry, and there are none. Our mortars have page 67made a direct hit on one gun, and the wrappings of field dressings show that casualties have been inflicted. We try to damage the guns with grenades, but it is useless. The sights which we take away are the only moveable parts.

Anxious to catch the Japs we push on toward an enemy observation post which is known to exist higher up. We hope to find them there. The advance is slow and cautious. It is unwise to follow the tracks, so we push through the undergrowth, alert for ambush. We near the top of the hill, and sit down for a spell. The 'Boss' sends a section back to the guns in case the enemy returns.

A short reconnaissance brings the 'Boss' to the observation post. He spots the enemy. They have no sentries out, but sit talking jn the huts. What luck! The 'Boss' calls us up quietly. We open up with bren, tommy, rifle and grenades. The enemy panic, and the fight is short but sharp. Our fire is returned and grenades fall among us. We hurl ours at every presentable target. Where the Japanese grenades merely injure, ours kill.

The 'Boss' is calmly calling us forward. We drive the enemy out, as he leaves many dead. Our casualties are seven, but they are all able to walk and retire immediately. The 'Boss' moves forward to remove the barrel of an enemy mortar, which he slides away over the bank. His efforts to destroy the dump of bombs with grenades are futile. His courage and calmness throughout the day have been an inspiration to us all. Returning to our perimeter, the wounded are dressed, and as we shake their hands they head for the beach. They will be evacuated before dark. The 'Boss' makes his report and the engineers are coming to destroy the guns. The 'Boss' is going as guide, and some of us go with him. As we prepare for our first night in the hostile jungle, word comes round that the 'Boss' is to be recommended for the Military Cross. He has deserved it. We are proud of him, and settle down for our first long night.